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Meet the 2024 Tiny Desk Contest winner

Nearly 7,000 independent artists entered this year's Tiny Desk Contest, NPR Music's annual search for the next great undiscovered artist. Earlier today, Morning Edition revealed the winner: a Sacramento producer, singer, rapper and multi-instrumentalist who performs as The Philharmonik. As he soaks in his big win and prepares to travel to NPR's headquarters in Washington, D.C., to perform a Tiny Desk concert, songwriter Christian Gates joins Juana Summers to share the story behind his winning entry.

One of the requirements when submitting to the Tiny Desk Contest is that each video must feature a desk. (It shows the judges that artists are prepared to play behind the real Tiny Desk; plus, it's fun.) Gates says that desks usually make him feel as if he's deviating from his own path by working for someone else. Eventually, he decided he needed to work at his own desk.

In a YouTube comment on his video, Gates shouts out the Sacramento community, which helped him see this vision through when he said he didn't have a single penny to his name.

Gates expands on this comment in his All Things Considered interview, sharing with Summers that he went through a dark and humbling time last year. While driving for Uber in order to make ends meet, he got into a bad car accident and could no longer work.

"I was really scrounging up money for change, to even do shows," he says. "I had these big visions for shows where I wanted nine people playing with me — but I couldn't afford it. And as the months went by it got progressively worse. And my other bills started to fall behind, too."

Then, when the Tiny Desk Contest opened, he asked his community for a favor.

"I said, hey, I think we could do good in this Contest if we execute this vision — but I really need your guys' help with this," Gates explains. "And everybody, absolutely everybody, came through to help me with no hesitation."

Gates says that since winning the Contest, it feels like his life has changed overnight.

"I'm glad that I went through the struggle, because [now] this win feels so honest to me, to what I believe in. It's a reflection of what I've worked for," he shares. "So I'm eternally grateful for everything that I've gone through, good and bad."

This summer, Gates and his eight-piece band will headline the 10-city Tiny Desk Contest On The Road tour. You can get tickets to see The Philharmonik, plus other local Contest entrants, at npr.org/tinydeskcontest.

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